Those who sneer at Obama for promising more than he could deliver have little understanding of the nature of moral idealism. They accuse him of naivety but they are themselves naive. They fail to grasp that Obama expressed the basic moral idealism that unites the vast majority of people in the West. He expressed it more eloquently than anyone else had for decades. To say that he created unrealistic hopes is inept. Those ‘unrealistic hopes’ are intrinsic to the basic creed of the West – ‘liberty and justice for all’ sums it up. Such intense idealism is a crucial aspect of the politics of the West, however awkward this is.
It’s risky for a politician to express such ideals with real verve, for a backlash is pretty likely. When people get tired of him and his party, they will seemingly reject that grand moral vision as well. But Trump’s fluke election doesn’t really mean that America has rejected its tradition of moral idealism. It means that America finds this idealism difficult, burdensome, and sometimes feels the need to kick against it, wish it away. But it’s still there.